2018-04-05 21:20:57 UTC
Institute Professor Emeritus Morris Halle, innovative and influential linguist, dies at 94
Scholar conducted groundbreaking research, helped found MIT’s linguistics program, and inspired generations of students.
Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office
April 3, 2018
Institute Professor Emeritus Morris Halle, one of the most accomplished and influential scholars in the field of linguistics, died of natural causes on Monday at age 94.
Halle was an expert in phonology, the structure of sounds in language. His wide-ranging work helped establish his own field as an important domain of research and helped systematize inquiry into the subject. Halle’s work was part of a revolution in linguistics that helped scholars understand human language as a phenomenon with a deep and universal structure, which stemmed from distinctive human faculties.
Beyond his own research, Halle helped found MIT’s renowned linguistics program and helped imbue it with its intellectual ethos, by encouraging meticulous research, a fruitful combination of empirical work and theory, and a spirit of collaborative, open-ended inquiry, which Halle exemplified throughout his own academic life.
Halle and Institute Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky developed groundbreaking research together in the 1950s and 1960s — after Halle played a key role in bringing Chomsky to MIT in 1955. Together, Chomsky and Halle worked to specify the innate foundations dictating the structure of human language, extending Chomsky’s work on syntax into a rule-governed framework describing the sounds produced in English.
“Morris and I were very close for almost 70 years, working together, sharing much else,” Chomsky told MIT News in response to Halle’s death. “His contributions to modern linguistic science are incalculable, not least right here at MIT, where even apart from his groundbreaking work, he was primarily responsible for creating what quickly became, and has remained, the center of a research enterprise that has flourished all over the world, far beyond anything in the millennia of inquiry into language. [Halle was] a wise and compassionate person, more than anyone I’ve known, whose kindness, warmth, and care touched many lives.”
David Pesetsky, the head of the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, said Halle was a profoundly influential researcher and educator — and a touchstone for MIT linguists over his whole career.
“Morris was an epoch-defining figure in the history of modern linguistics — not only for his scientific contributions, which helped launch the modern era of our field, but also for his revolutionary approach to graduate education,” said Pesetsky, the Ferrari P. Ward Professor of Modern Languages and Linguistics...